Superman on Radio & Audio
Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews
1940: Donelli's Protection RacketReviewed by: James Lantz
Original Broadcast Dates: April 15, 1940-April 26, 1940
"Donelli's Protection Racket"
Gangster and racketeer Chip Donelli has been taking twenty dollars in protection money every week from all the businesses on Spruce Street, including the candy store owned by Jimmy Olsen's mother. When the young copy boy for the Daily Planet tells Clark Kent of Donelli's extorting one hundred dollars from Mrs. Olsen, the reporter agrees to help Jimmy and his mother. Jimmy and Clark arrive on Spruce Street, and Jimmy shows Clark the broken window of the Schultz Butcher Shop. Schultz hadn't paid Donelli the protection money. As a result, a brick had been thrown through his store window.
Clark and Jimmy arrive at the candy store and talk to Jimmy's frightened mother. She insists that Clark and Jimmy do not get involved. Clark later convinces her that he can help. Both Jimmy and Clark hide behind the candy counter while one of Donelli's hired goons named Spike tries to get the twenty dollars from Mrs. Olsen for the sixth week in a row. At first, she refuses, but she later gives the thug twenty dollars after Spike punches Clark. Clark, unhurt by the punch, follows the extortionist to Chip Donelli's headquarters as Superman.
After Spike tells Donelli of his trouble with Clark Kent in Olsen's Candy Store, he says that Kent is outside of the office looking for the racketeer. Donelli leaves his office and finds that it isn't Clark Kent that is looking for him. It is, in fact, Superman confronting Chip Donelli. The Man of Steel beats and humiliates Donelli into giving back Mrs. Olsen's one hundred and twenty dollars. Superman then threatens Donelli. If he continues to extort money from the businesses on Spruce Street, Superman will be back to give the gangster what he deserves. Donelli then orders Spike to teach Mrs. Olsen and Jimmy a lesson.
Not knowing of the events that transpired, Jimmy and his mother believe that Clark's intervention has only made things worse between the Spruce Street businesses and Chip Donelli's gang. Clark Kent then returns with Mrs. Olsen's money. Jimmy's mother is overjoyed when Clark says that Donelli won't be bothering her again. However, without the knowledge of either Clark or the Olsens, Donelli's men are waiting in the shadows to keep Mrs. Olsen and Jimmy from talking about Donelli's protection racket. They wait for Olsen's Candy Store to close before attacking Jimmy and his mother.
Superman suddenly appears and gives the gangsters a beating they'll never forget. They eventually get away, but Superman chooses to help Jimmy Olsen and his unconscious mother as Clark Kent. Clark helps the Olsens get home when Jimmy mentions seeing a man in a blue costume and red cape fighting with Chip Donelli's henchmen. Clark tells Jimmy that he must be tired if he saw the man that people have called Superman. Kent later says that he'll have Lois Lane stop by to check on the Olsens. Out of the view of Jimmy, our hero promises himself that he'll stop Chip Donelli and his illegal activities as Superman.
Meanwhile, Spike tells Donelli about the fight with Superman. Donelli then calls the Olsen house. He impersonates Clark Kent and tells young Jimmy that he and Lois must meet him on the corner of Spruce and Second Street. The gangster plans to capture them and use them to prevent articles about Donelli's criminal organization from being printed in the Daily Planet.
Later, Jimmy runs into the office of editor Perry White. He tells Clark and Perry that Donelli has captured Lois Lane. Jimmy himself was almost captured by the gangster, but he managed to escape. Clark Kent then asks Mr. White to have someone stay with Jimmy Olsen's mother before flying to Donelli's headquarters as Superman. The Man of Steel doesn't find Chip Donelli, but he does find one of the gangster's henchmen. Superman fights with the man until the thug jumps out of the third floor window and kills himself.
After returning to the Daily Planet, Clark gets a phonecall from Donelli. Kent asks Perry White to trace the call while Donelli talks. The racketeer says that if he sees anything about him printed in the Daily Planet, Lois Lane will suffer. Perry White says that Donelli called from a town called Little Falls, which is about fifty miles north of Metropolis. After much discussion, Perry, Jimmy and Clark head for Little Falls together.
In a cabin located in the forest that's just two miles above Little Falls, Chip Donelli and Spike wait for a henchman to bring the weekly extortion money. They do not know that this henchman had suicided after fighting Superman. Lois Lane is tied up in the next room, and a briefcase is in the room with her. The briefcase is full of documents with Donelli's extortions and business transactions on them.
Donelli and Spike check on Lois, but neither she nor the briefcase can be found. Lois escaped out the room's window with the papers. Suddenly, Spike accidentally kicks over a kerosene stove while trying to follow Lois Lane's muddy tracks. The kerosene starts a fire. Donelli and Spike then escape into town to find the henchmen with the protection money. The gangsters hope the fire spreads into the forest. If the fire spreads, the incriminating documents will be destroyed, and Lois Lane will be killed.
Spike and Chip Donelli are heading back to Little Falls. Donelli says that he blocked the road to the burning cabin by chopping down a large tree and attaching explosives to it. Suddenly, their car gets a flat tire. While Spike fixes the wheel, Perry White, not knowing who Spike is, asks for directions to Little Falls. Donelli then says that he saw Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen in the car with Perry.
The trio from the Daily Planet stops at a gas station and asks the man there about Chip Donelli. They also ask if Lois Lane was with Donelli. Thinking Donelli is a friend of the men, he answers all of their questions affirmatively. Clark then says he'll be going into the woods alone when the gas station attendant tells them of the fire at the cabin and of the tree that is blocking the road. Clark then tells Perry to take the car to find a phone and call the police. Jimmy is ordered to stay with the fuel station attendant in case Chip Donelli returns to the gas station. Should there be any trouble, the attendant should fire his gun into the air three times.
Superman then flies to where the tree is blocking the road. He removes the tree effortlessly despite the explosives wired to it. He then hears the gas station attendant's gun being fired three times and the sound of a car horn. He is seen by Perry White after resuming his guise of Clark Kent. White asks if the explosion injured Clark or Jimmy. Clark says that Jimmy should be at the gas station, but the attendant said that Jimmy followed Clark into the woods. Perry and Clark are now searching the blazing forest for the young copy boy. The search for both Jimmy and Lois Lane proves to be unsuccessful even with the help of the fuel station attendant. The fire in the forest is spreading as Chip Donelli and Spike overhear the search party's words about Jimmy and Lois. The gangster starts a back fire to stop the main blaze in hopes that Lois, Jimmy and the briefcase with evidence against Donelli will be destroyed by one or both of the two fires.
Meanwhile, Jimmy has found Lois, who has the aforementioned briefcase. Unfortunately, Lois has twisted her ankle and needs help walking. Young Jimmy helps Lois, but the smoke from the fire is extremly thick. At the same time, Superman is using a pine tree like a broom to help put out the fire. He then finds Lois and Jimmy. Not being able see because of smoke from the remaining fire, Jimmy and Lois believe Clark Kent is leading them out of the woods.
As Clark Kent brings Jimmy and Lois to Perry White and the gas station attendant, Chip Donelli is explaining his next plan to Spike. He has a small box that he calls his "big surprise," and he plans on using it somehow against the quartet from the Daily Planet once he reaches the main road to Little Falls. Donelli plants the box in a culvert while Spike attaches a fuse to the box. The box contains an extremely powerful explosive. Donelli then orders Spike to go back and spy on Perry, Lois, Jimmy and Clark while he waits near the small box. Donelli plans to stay nearby when the briefcase rolls down the hill after the explosion so he can grab the papers inside of it.
Meanwhile, Lois shows the briefcase full of papers to Clark, Jimmy and Perry. Jimmy and Lois get into Perry White's car while Clark Kent stays behind. As Superman, he captures Spike. He takes the racketeer for a flight. The scared Spike tells Superman of Chip Donelli's plans to blow up Perry White's car when it gets near the culvert. Superman orders the thug to tell Perry about Donelli's bomb. Jimmy sees Spike on the road, but Perry does not and continues to drive. The car then stops suddenly as if someone has grabbed the back of the car to halt it. Spike warns White and the others just in time. The explosion occurs as Perry drives the car in reverse. Clark Kent then arrives with an unconscious Chip Donelli. Clark claims to have found him stunned in a nearby field. The police arrive to arrest Spike and Donelli, and Perry White has many unanswered questions about some of the recent events. We'll find out if Perry gets the anwers to his questions in the next episodes of The Adventures of Superman.
After being disappointed with some things in the previous story arc, I had hoped that "Donelli's Protection Racket" would be better. Let me just say that it isn't just better, it's a lot better. The opening narration in chapter one doesn't even mention the events of "The Emerald of the Incas" for some reason. All of the chapters from other stories so far have mentioned the events from previous episodes. However, chapter one of "Donelli's Protection Racket" seems to be the exception to that rule. Maybe the writers were trying to forget "The Emerald of the Incas."
This story feels like a mixture of a Seigel and Shuster story and an episode of the George Reeves TV show. Upon first listening to all six chapters, I saw Joe Shuster's artwork telling the story in my mind. Hearing them a second time made my mind's eye see George Reeves, Noel Neil, Jack Larson and John Hamilton playing the characters even if the voices were not those of the actors from old television series. I particularly saw Jack and Noel in the scenes where Jimmy and Lois are trying to escape the fire. Whether you're a fan of the early golden age Superman comics, you prefer the George Reeves incarnation, or you just love a good Superman story, "Donelli's Protection Racket" gives the imagination a nostalgic feeling for the classic Man of Steel.
Another thing this story arc gives us is the first appearance of Jimmy Olsen. The Adventures of Superman radio serial has given us the first appearances of various elements that have now become an everyday part of the Superman legend. Perry White and the Daily Planet first appeared in chapter two of "The Origin of Superman." Kryptonite and team-ups with Batman and Robin will make future first appearances in the radio show. I guess part of the nostalgia I mentioned before comes from knowing that a character that is still important in the mythos even today makes his first appearance. Love him or hate him, Jimmy Olsen has been a part of Superman stories for a long time, and we have "Donelli's Protection Racket" to thank for it.
Another thing "Donelli's Protection Racket" has going for it is a good story. After my disappointment in "The Emerald of the Incas," I needed to hear a good story, and this story arc provided that. Sure, it was a very basic story, but that's the beauty of it. "Donelli's Protection Racket" isn't full of subplots that take you away from the main story. It's "Superman Versus the Bad Guys." This type of story might not work in this day and age. Many, including myself at times, want more in their entertainment than a basic good battles evil story, but the crazy thing is that this type of basic storytelling works well for these radio serials, especially "Donelli's Protection Racket."
Chip Donelli sounds like the stereotypical gangster from an Edward G. Robinson film, but like the writing, that works for the story. Maybe Jimmy's mother sounded slightly too old to be the mother of a fourteen year-old, but I found myself caring for her plight and wishing Superman would beat the stuffing out of Chip Donelli and his thugs. The actor playing Jimmy (Jackie Kelk would later play young Olsen in the radio show) does a fine job in the character's first adventure. He portrays Jimmy as an eager teenager willing to go to great lengths to find adventure and a story, but at the same time, he's not one of those kids you want to slap for his behavior.
In the end, "Donelli's Protection Racket" provided everything that I had expected from "The Emerald of the Incas" and more. It had action, fun, and nostalgia. Plus, the first appearance of Jimmy Olsen makes it an important moment in Superman history. While we can't have another first appearance of Jimmy, let's hope the next story has all the other qualities that "Donelli's Protection Racket" had.
Back to the "Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews" Contents page.